The Fort Madison Community School District in Southeast Iowa is one example of how school districts have responded to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ mandate that at least 50% of core classes are taught in person when students return for the 2020-21 school year. Rather than bring all students back to its buildings at once, the school board on July 20 approved a hybrid model that will allow K-12 students to receive in-person instruction on a rotating, weekly basis.
In the coming days, students will learn whether they are in “Group A” or “Group B.” Children living in the same household will be placed in the same group regardless of grade level. For example, while students in Group A are attending school in person for the week, Group B students will be at home, and vice versa.
Students in the Fort Madison district (FMCSD) also have the option to receive instruction entirely online, with mandatory attendance, assessments and curriculum.
As Gov. Kim Reynolds emphasized in a press conference Thursday, the coronavirus pandemic remains “a very fluid situation” and school districts should be prepared to update their plans as needed.
Ankeny Community School District and Bondurant-Farrar, in Central Iowa, also have adopted hybrid models to begin the school year, though their plans rely on a daily rotation between two groups rather than a weekly rotation, as agreed to in Fort Madison.
Based on the “return-to-learn” update provided today by Reynolds, Dr. Caitlin Pedati and Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education, counties will need to meet a certain positivity threshold for positive coronavirus cases in order for a school district or building to request entirely online instruction.
According to state guidance, if a county has a 15-20% average positivity rate over a 14-day period and 10% absenteeism among in-person students, a district or school building can petition the Department of Education to send students home for up to 14 days of virtual instruction. This leaves some districts in limbo, such as Iowa City, that want their students to begin the school year entirely online.
“We need to keep our next generation learning, growing and preparing for a bright future. And online learning is an essential component of that, but it can’t make up for the critical role our schools play in the development of social and emotional skills that our children rely on,” Reynolds said Thursday morning during a press conference, citing the “achievement gap” that can occur depending on whether a household has internet access or a special needs child who needs in-person instruction to properly learn.
Lee County, home to FMCSD, has an overall positivity rate of 3.2%, though that number jumped to 5.3% on Wednesday as two out of 38 people tested positive for COVID-19. Lee County has experienced a noticeable uptick in positive cases in recent weeks. On July 18, the county’s 14-day average of positive cases was three. Today, it’s up to 24.
Neighboring counties, such as Des Moines, had a positivity rate on Wednesday of 2.2% (overall 3.3%); Van Buren County, 6.7% (overall 4%); and Henry County, 0% (overall 4.3%).
Statewide, the coronavirus positivity rate on Wednesday was 8.6% and is 9.3% total. More than 43,000 Iowans have contracted COVID-19 and 31,784 have recovered. In Iowa, 856 people have died due to complications caused by the respiratory disease.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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